The Traveling Steve's

EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival and Disney Springs Weekend

Now that Spring is in the air, that means it’s time for the EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival. We had some friends visiting from out of town, so we stayed at the Hilton Lake Buena Vista Palace on Saturday night so we could meet them for dinner.

Steve (DOS) and I went to EPCOT for the day, while our friends went to SeaWorld. The Flower and Garden Festival has become an annual tradition at EPCOT, and the whole park comes alive with colorful plants, topiaries, outdoor exhibits and seminars, and even has ‘flower-child music’; i.e. 60’s music concerts in the evenings.

As we are both annual Disney pass holders, we just went to EPCOT for a few hours, but still saw quite a bit. We like to walk for exercise, and EPCOT is about the best place you can go for that, especially now with the beautiful plants enhancing the already fun-filled park.

On the way in to the park we stopped for a quick photo of “Steve’s” meeting place. We weren’t sure what that was, but it made for a good photo. Once inside the park we noticed they were filming an episode of Steve Harvey’s TV show. While we could have been part of the audience, it had already started and we didn’t wish to wait in line, so headed out for our walk ‘around the world’.

While EPCOT is always colorfully decorated with plants and flowers, the Flower and Garden Festival always adds extra topiaries and re-plants the existing gardens with beautiful floral displays in various shape and sizes.

We didn’t go on any rides or attractions today, but simply enjoyed the beautiful Saturday afternoon at EPCOT enjoying the festival, people watching, interacting with the flower-child ladies riding around, and of course the beautiful flowers and plants themselves adorning the countries of World Showcase.

We love walking by the countries and each one is uniquely themed to fit its environment.  After going to Asia on a couple recent trips (Beijing last October, and more recently Singapore for Chinese New Year) we especially liked seeing the China pavilion. 

I posted before when we were in Beijing, but the Temple of Heaven looks as authentic in EPCOT as it does in China!

Moving around the world, we zipped by Great Britain, and unfortunately Stephen Twining’s of Twining’s Tea wasn’t in-house today.  You can make out the back of Goldilocks behind DOS though!

And after just having been in Calgary Canada, we made a quick stop at the Canadian pavilion, admiring the floating potted plants in the water along the way.

We skipped thru France this trip as it was quite busy in the pretty garden courtyard, although we  usually stop by to see the film “Reflections de France”, inside the 180 degree viewing theater.  Likewise Morocco and Japan were having outdoor performances, so we breezed by them in the interest of time, stopping by Germany to admire the always changing (with the seasons) outdoor train display.

I even took a short 14 second video of it, not the best but it’s fun to watch going in and out of the tunnels, up the mountains etc.

As we were meeting our friends back at the hotel around 4pm, we then headed back towards the exit, stopping along the way to see our ‘portrait’; still there etched on the granite wall with several thousands others.  Can you find us?  I’ll give you a clue; we’re on the seventh row down from the top.

Below is a photo up close. We look so young there – must have been at least 10 years ago!

We also searched for the other single photo of me on a different granite wall, but couldn’t find it.  I had it done back in 2000 before I met DOS, and I was certain I knew where it was.  I guess memory gets a bit fuzzy over the years!  At home I have a copy of the plaque card Disney sent me with the location, so on our next visit we will have to find ‘me’ again.

After we left EPCOT, we headed to check-in at our nearby hotel, the Hilton Lake Buena Vista Palace, conveniently located across from Disney Springs. The Hilton Lake Buena Vista Palace, was formerly the Wyndham Buena Vista Palace, with Hilton Hotels recently purchasing the hotel, and rebranding it into one of their properties.   The Disney Springs area of Walt Disney World has also been rebranded after extensive remodeling over the last couple years, including traffic flow changes, parking garages added, and a much more modern and upscale look to this former Downtown Disney location, adjacent to the original Hotel Plaza Blvd area.  No more Pleasure Island for you nostalgic adult Disney party-goers, but there are loads of places to eat, drink, and be merry, without the club atmosphere of yesteryear.  There are still enough places left to bring back memories of Downtown Disney, including the Lego shop and displays, recently reopened Planet Hollywood, lots of Disney stores, the kids train ride, the huge paddleboat, Earl of Sandwich, Ghirardelli Chocolates, etc, but there are also quite a lot of new things added as well.

The original Hilton at Walt Disney World is quite nice, and is also across the street from Disney Springs.  We used to stay there a fair bit years ago before there were so many new hotels, and  we always enjoyed it.  We decided to stay at the Hilton Lake Buena Palace as it is now a Hilton property, and figured we would have better views of the parks and fireworks in their high-rise tower, and would be an excellent Hilton seeing the investment they had made acquiring the property.  I had stayed there years ago when it was the Wyndham Buena Vista Palace and wanted to see how much nicer it must be now that Hilton owns it.  What a mistake!

We got our first glimpse of disappointment before we even walked in the front door.  There was a back-up of cars all the way down the long hotel entranceway driveway, and apparently the self-parking (at $10 a night) was closed due to “an event that was just ending” (which later turned out to be the misstatement of 2018 – it was a huge conference that had been there all week and was occupying the entire self parking lot and from the looks of it would be for several more days.  More below but look at the cranes in the right of the photo).  They made it sound like ‘the event’ was simply an afternoon wedding and it would only be a few more minutes of inconvenience – highly misleading and wrong too. Here’s a view of the car line-up below when we finally got to our room – mind you every one of those cars had to be individually valet parked to the lot across the street to the left – quite a distance, not to mention major delays getting to the hotel entrance.

We, along with everyone else, had to use the hotel’s valet parking, which with all of the cars, made for quite a long wait.  With few exceptions, I hate valet parking; it’s an additional and unnecessary wait for the car, and should you forget something, you can’t just walk back to the car to get it; ie. sunglasses, umbrella, phone etc.  Also once in a Miami hotel, my rental car was damaged via the valet.  Anyway, after a half hour or so, we finally reached the entrance and went to check in amidst the parking chaos.

We had about an hour before our friends arrived back from Sea World, so we took a quick walk across the street to Disney Springs.  Even though Disney Springs (DS) is across the street, you can’t cross there directly; you have to walk along a pathway out of the hotel, and then the sidewalk up to a major intersection, which is across the street from the other Hilton.

 They’ve added an overpass from the hotels to DS, so that makes it easier to cross.  We walked around Disney Springs for a bit before we headed back to meet our friends.

Our friends and others now arriving to the hotel had a similar issue with the valet checkin wait, and once checked in, settled in to their room on the 12th floor.  Our room was on the 20th floor in the adjacent (and connected) tower.  Both of our rooms faced EPCOT and Magic Kingdom in the far distance, which would have been nice if we were there at the time of the 9pm and 7:30pm fireworks, respectively.  There was a tiny triangular balcony you could walk out on, with a tiny table and chair.  The eyesore however, was the parking lot full of cranes!  Below is a better photo taken the next day shortly before we checked out; apparently ‘the event just ending was still going on’.

While no one at the hotel explained the whole parking mess, saying it was due to ‘an event just ending’; that ‘event’ was what I called a ‘crane convention’.  There was a huge conference at the hotel of industrial machinery, and the entire self parking lot was closed due to a dozen or more large cranes and other equipment.  I can just imagine the hotel’s sales department agreeing to anything to make a sale, with little regard to the inconvenience of the rest of the hotel guests.  I really felt bad for the valet guys as they were working their butts off running back and forth the long distances to park all of the cars in the hot Florida heat, while everyone was grumbling about the wait.  For this reason alone, I would not stay at the Hilton Lake Buena Vista Palace again.  There was no mention of this on their website, or I would have stayed at the other Hilton, as we had just booked the hotel a couple days before.  I had specifically looked up the parking, and it was shown as self parking at $10 a night.  

We had a good one night’s stay, and to be fair, they had nice pool facilities with a lazy river, but if we were staying longer and had to rely on this valet parking coming and going, we would have checked out and switched hotels due to the extra time it took to get and drop off the car.  Some of the areas seemed a bit dated too, but as it’s a busy property I guess that’s to be expected, but I think I would try to polish up the elevators a bit more? It looked like they tried to scratch out and the 27th floor name plaque from the previous Wyndham owners, but looked kind of tacky.  I think I would have covered up the 27th floor’s new name with a metal or wooden sign, instead of looking like it was sandpapered off to no avail.  Sorry I know I sound picky, but stay in way to many hotels to be objective! LOL!

Even if you didn’t had a car and were using a taxi or Uber, you were delayed getting up to or from the hotel as they were blocked by all the other cars trying to get parked – what a mess! 

Anyway after getting washed up and dressed, we went with our friends back over to Disney Springs for an pre-dinner walk and some drinks and appetizers.  We had reservations at 8pm at Johnny’s Hideaway, a short Uber ride away from Disney Springs, but we had plenty of time to enjoy the evening at DS before heading to Johnny’s.  We went up to the top of the huge Paddle Boat restaurant (formerly the Empress Lilly, which has been extensively renovated) and waved at the chauffeured car-boats people rent for a water view of the Disney Springs Village area.  The Disney Saratoga Springs resort is in the distance shown below.

We then ended up on the lower level of the Boathouse Restaurant for some drinks and appetizers.  We had dinner reservations off property at 8pm, but had time to relax a bit before dinner.


After our appetizers, we took Uber to Johnny’s Hideaway Restaurant, which is located off Disney property (just barely), and across and up the street.  Johnny’s is part of Talk of the Town, a local upscale, casual dining chain that has several restaurant’s including Charley’s Steakhouse, and Fishbone’s (not to be confused with Bonefish Grille).

 Even though we had already had appetizers at Disney Springs, we still managed to get a couple more appetizers to share before ordering our entrees.  

We then had the house salad, served like all of the food from the fancy wooden trolley.

After the salad we had our entrees (huge bone-in ribeye for us) which was perfectly paired with their ‘M’ Cabernet, an exquisite red wine they purchase directly from the winery.


After dinner we split a couple desserts, including this creme brûlée,  flambéed table side, as well as some cheesecake and specialty coffee.

After dinner, we Uber’d back the short distance to the hotel.  Even at the late hour there was still a backup getting to the hotel entrance!  Fortunately we could get out of the Uber and walk up to the hotel driveway without waiting in line behind all the other cars waiting to be parked, unlike the poor Uber driver who was stuck in the hotel traffic jam. As it was well past the Disney World firework times, we headed to bed shortly thereafter.  Our feet told us it was a long but fun day!

In the morning, prior to checking out we had breakfast in the Hilton restaurant. It was quite busy at 10:30am, and we soon found out why – they had a Disney Character Breakfast on Sunday mornings! DOS and I used to love going to character meals in Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, and this was a nice surprise.  After we were seated, we started to have coffee, but as the waitress poured the coffee, the handle broke off and the hot coffee went all over me, my phone, and the table!  I was literally drenched with hot coffee!  Meanwhile the poor waitress was standing by with blood on her hand from the cup breaking.  While the coffee was hot, I didn’t have burns or the urge to sue like the McDonald’s lady that sued for a couple million dollars years ago.  The manager offered to take a report, medical assistance, clothes cleaned etc, but I was actually more concerned with the waitress.  After moving us to another table, and wiping me off with lots of towels, the waitress came by later with gloves covering her hands; she was ok and apologized to us, even though it wasn’t her fault.  I was too busy drying my iPhone off, shirt and shorts to take any photos.  Fortunately my shorts were black, my shirt dried quickly, my phone was fine, and I wasn’t burned.

After the coffee drama, we had the buffet breakfast, while we had three of the Disney characters come by throughout our meal: Pluto, Goofy (my favorite), and Minnie!  There’s something about seeing the interactions with the characters that brings the kid out of the grown adults, and it’s heart-warming to watch families have their moment with someone ‘famous’.  And we are no exception – we love meeting the characters up close and personal!

Having the character breakfast was like icing on the cake; it really made our day and stay.  While we didn’t ask for it, the manager comped our meal, and we had to force our waitress to accept our tip, still apologizing about the coffee incident.  We thanked her again, gave her a hug and went on our way.  Even the final half hour wait for our car from the valet parking at checkout and traffic jam getting out of the hotel couldn’t dampen our mood. And driving home from our mini stay-cation, DOS and I both agreed we need to go back to Disney more often!

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